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Air France

Air France Looks to Tech to Avoid Covid-19 Restrictions ‘Nightmare’ This Summer

Edward Russell

March 19th, 2021

Air France is moving full speed ahead on finding technology solutions to the myriad of Covid-19 travel restrictions that will likely be in place for the busy summer travel season ahead.

The SkyTeam Alliance carrier expanded its four-week trial of the AOKpass digital health passport to flights between its Paris Charles de Gaulle base and both Los Angeles and San Francisco on March 15. The trial began on flights to French overseas departments Guadeloupe and Martinique earlier in the month. While one of many such trials, Air France is working with the French government, and with an eye on the EU’s plans for a “green digital certificate,” to select a digital solution that streamlines the myriad of new travel rules by June.

“We think we have no choice but getting this type of solution,” said Emmanuelle Ferracci, the Operational Performance Director at Air France overseeing the AOKPass trial. “We hope that for summer we will have the traffic recovering, and so if we don’t find any solution… then we will have some congestion on the boarding, and this will be a nightmare in terms of customer experience.”

The June target coincides with when the airline is betting on an uptick in demand, at least within Europe. Air France plans to fly as much as 85 percent of its 2019 capacity in June compared to just 55 percent in May, according to Cirium schedules. However, as throughout the crisis, June — and summer — schedules are likely to change up until as little as 30 days out.

The view that a digital solution is needed to restart travel is pervasive through the industry. Trade group IATA is developing its own digital health passport, Travel Pass, to address the needs of its members. Other entrants in the market include the CommonPass and VeriFly apps. Just this week, CommonPass entered regular use with JetBlue Airways on flights to Aruba, marking one of the first examples of these passports moving past the trial phase.

But CommonPass’ introduction on JetBlue flights would not have happened without buy-in from the Aruban government. Institutional backing is key to moving this new breed of travel apps past trials and into standard use. That’s why it is critical for Air France to work with the French government on its trial. The carrier needs France — and more broadly the EU — to back a digital standard for these passports, whether it is the AOKpass or another app, as more people are vaccinated and look to travel again.

“If there are several solutions spread across the world, then the customer will have to download 10 applications on their phones — it’s just not possible,” Ferracci said. “We have to find a solution that we can use worldwide.”

With the goal of a single standard in mind, Air France plans to share the results of its trials with fellow group carrier KLM as well as partner Delta Air Lines. The three airlines, plus Virgin Atlantic Airways, operate under a joint venture between Europe and the U.S.

And health passport apps may just be the beginning. Asked whether biometrics are part of the AOKpass trial, Ferracci said they are not part of this phase but will likely be included in a later phase of the health passport concept. Industry leaders have long envisioned a future where travelers could pass through airports using just their faces or fingerprints for verification, an initiative that has only taken on greater importance during the pandemic amid fears of high-touch and other surfaces abound.

Air France’s push for a technological solution to the new world of travel health restrictions follows a nearly €7.08 billion ($8.4 billion) group net loss in 2020. The group has slashed expenses during the crisis but, like airlines around the world, needs travelers to return to get back to solid financial footing.

Edward Russell

March 19th, 2021

Tags: Air France digital health passport

Photo credit: Ben Smith said he was "pleasantly shocked" that the U.S. will admit vaccinated travelers.  Air France / Courtesy of Air France

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